Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to debate the new citizenship act. I will try to put this in context of what it means to Canada.
We are a nation of immigrants who come from all over the world. We are a nation that in many ways represents the best in the world, having built a tolerant society that in many cases is the envy of the world.
The member who just spoke, the critic for the Progressive Conservative Party, myself as well as another 50 members of the House were not born in Canada. We came from elsewhere. We were debating recently in the House that the practice of the Americans trying to institute racial profiling on Canadians born in certain countries who were trying to gain entry into the United States was a bad thing and was something that had to be corrected. There are members of Parliament who originally came from some of those countries but who are Canadian citizens. Under those procedures they would be subjected to being registered and having their fingerprints taken. That is not right and the American government has recognized that it is not right.
I understand that in the context of 9/11 we do look at the world in a different fashion but practices such as racial profiling do not work. They require a great deal of resources and they are not effective. In order to be successful in combating things like terrorism, the efforts have to be focused and there cannot be scarce resources.
I have been in Canada since 1957 after fleeing a revolution in Hungary. In some sense 9/11 made me as a new Canadian, appreciate how hysteria can overtake us and lead us into making bad decisions.
As much as Canada should be a beacon to the world, and in many cases it is, it is imperative that we understand our history. It is imperative that we understand why on April 17, 1982, over 20 years ago, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted to enshrine basic rights and guarantees to the citizenry of the country.
In the charter, section 7 on legal rights states:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
I underline fundamental justice and security of the person. I say that because when we talk about the security of the person there are few things that would be as important to a person like myself, who is a citizen by choice or the six million other Canadians who are also citizens by choice, than the right to our citizenship and not to be deprived of it, except in the due process of law.
I will touch briefly on the history so we will understand why we need the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are cases before our courts right now where members of the Chinese community want compensation for the head tax. The head tax represents one of the darkest periods in our immigration history. At that time someone who came from China would have to pay a humongous amount of money, something like $5,000 at the turn of the century, which would be worth half a million dollars or more today, for the right to come into this country. The Asian exclusion act said that we did not want people coming to this country from Asia.
We have Project Roll Call going on right now that the critic on citizenship and immigration has spearheaded and spoken about. He has a private member's bill. Project Roll Call kicked off this week. It talks about Ukrainians. There are approximately one million Canadians of Ukrainian origin in Canada, or their descendants, who are living in this country. These people are looking for redress to a basic wrong where they were treated as less than human. They were classified as enemy aliens during the first world war; 5,000 were interned and another 80,000 were forced to register as enemy aliens.
We can go to other people who were Canadians living in Canada and who were forced to register as enemy aliens. We have members in the House from Italian backgrounds who have relatives who were forced to register as enemy aliens.
We had a law in this land that treated Canadians who fought in the first world war with great disrespect. We have had veterans of the first world war who were immigrants. Around 20% of the Canadian Forces who fought in the first world war were immigrants.
On May 28 we honoured the unknown soldiers by unveiling the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The person lying there could very well be one of those 20%. The practice we had in the country at that time was that if one was injured fighting overseas for Canada, then came back to this country and required relief and hospitalization, one could be deported. Surely we all recognize that this history has to be addressed.
During the second world war we had racist policies. The SS St. Louis , a ship full of Jews, travelled from Cuba to South America and past the coast of the United States and Canada. They were seeking refuge for almost 1,000 Jews who were fleeing wartorn Europe and persecution in Germany. What did we do? We turned them all down: the Americans, Cubans, South Americans and Canadians. We forced that ship to go back to Europe where many of those Jews perished in the gas chambers.
I bring that up because we also had a policy of “none is too many” for the Jews at the turn of the second world war. It was not until 1975 that we said it was not a consideration whether one was a person of colour trying to come into this country and we eliminated racial discrimination.
I say all those things because we are a nation of immigrants coming from all sorts of groups that have been discriminated against in their time. We have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which was enacted by Pierre Elliot Trudeau and signed by the Queen on April 17, 1982. I cannot stress enough the importance of that.
With regard to the groups that have been looking for redress, we gave redress to Canadians of Japanese ancestry because of some of the horrible things that happened to them during the second world war. Not only were they subjected to the Asian exclusion act, but during the war they were interned and their properties were seized. They were dispersed to camps throughout Canada. What is so incredibly unforgivable is that after the war, 4,000 Canadians, many of them of Japanese ancestry and many of them born in Canada, were forcefully repatriated to Japan, a country that was devastated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a country that was obliterated.
It is imperative that we understand the fundamental underlying reasons why we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is in a way our day of atonement. The Ukrainian community and some Chinese communities are seeking redress right now for past wrongs. I can name all sorts of other groups that will also be seeking redress. I think to a large extent we have done that by enacting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would also suggest that we have a day of atonement, if for no other reason than for Canadians to understand the history of how we got to where we are. One only has to look at what happened to the Acadians.
It is imperative that we recognize the fundamental importance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If we want to truly be a country that is a beacon of hope to the rest of the world as to how society should operate, we must ensure that fundamental rights are not violated.
As I mentioned, I came to Canada in 1957 as a refugee. My citizenship is important to me. I was greatly honoured by my constituents when they elected me for the first time to this House in 1993. I was honoured by the Prime Minister when he asked me to become Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in 1998.
Since I was not born in this country, notwithstanding the fact that I have been here since 1957, under Bill C-16, I and six million other Canadians, who like myself are citizens by choice, did not have the right to protection under the charter. When the government refused to give individuals those rights, I voted against the legislation and resigned as parliamentary secretary. I have been fighting the unfairness of that bill ever since.
I can tell the House that there are many more people enlightened about the Citizenship Act and what the revocation process is. I am pleased to see that in section 16 the government recognized the principle over which I resigned, which was basically that if one's citizenship were revoked, one should have the right of due process before the courts. One should have the right to appeal something as important as revocation of citizenship. One should have the right to go to the Supreme Court. One also should not be in the position where a political body like cabinet has the right to revoke an individual's citizenship. When I look back at the past injustices in this country, they were done by governor in council, by politicians.
With the institutions that we have built in our judiciary it is very important that we separate the mob that can exist because of 9/11. Everyone understands that because we lived through it. We should give that to the courts where the due process of law applies. Unless we do that, we do not really have a right to full citizenship. I am very pleased the minister put that section in.
I am not very pleased with clause 56. While we recognize that the law was bad and that it needed to be improved, clause 56 says that if a person is before the courts on citizenship revocation, the person will get the bad old process, not the new process. It seems to me that if we abolish capital punishment, we do not hang people on death row. That is a very fundamental principle. I look forward to working with the committee and the House to rectify that.
Clause 17 is totally new. It came in because of what happened on 9/11. We have to be very careful not to be stampeded into ruining what we accomplished in clause 16 by putting into clause 17 secret trials, no right to judicial review, a test of evidence, the rules of evidence do not apply and no appeal, not even a judicial review.
Clause 18 is also new. It would create a probationary citizen. For the first five years the judicial process would not apply. It would be done by the minister. The minister is good fellow and I like him, but the fact is that we all know it is not the minister who will make those decisions, it will be a faceless bureaucrat who does not have to answer for his or her decision. I think we can work with that, recognizing that 9/11 did happen to make it better.
One of the discomforts I have with the whole citizenship act is that it only deals with naturalization. It does not deal with all those other Canadians out there. Citizenship should be great news and something we should celebrate. I think a lot of that is lacking.
While there was an improvement in the citizenship oath, because it really put Canada first and foremost before the Queen, I can only say that my colleague from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, in a private member's bill, Bill C-203, proposed another citizenship oath. I do not agree with all his wording but he has a fundamental section in it. He talks about the five principles of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms: equality of opportunity, freedom of speech, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of the law.
I am pleased to be engaging in this debate and this process. I look forward to working with the committee, the minister and all my colleagues in the House collectively with our wisdom, in a non-partisan way, because citizenship is not something we should ever play politics with. I really learned to appreciate my colleagues from the other side, and of course some on my side, when I was going through this battle over two years ago. I know that if we work together in a non-partisan way we will come up with a bill that will answer the issues I have raised. As Canadians, all 31 million of us, can celebrate the joy of being Canadian citizens.